We are appalled at the historic mistreatment by police of racial minorities. We are deeply aware of embedded racism in the United States, even on the part of people who believe that they are not motivated by race, much less racist themselves. We understand that people of color live different lives than people who are white.
And we are made more aware of these issues through the demonstrations that have been sweeping the country and show little sign of stopping. Freedom of speech and assembly are basic rights in the United States. We can, and should, speak out about racial injustice and inequality. We can, and should, do this loudly and emphatically. Under the First Amendment, the government must give us the space to do this. Indeed, Chin & Curtis has given each employee paid time off to express their views about racial equity. We are also matching employee donations to entities that promote racial equity.
The First Amendment applies to anyone in the United States, but are non-citizens free to express their views just the same as U.S. citizens? In theory, yes – but in real life we need to be more careful.
Peacefully assembling and expressing your views – even loudly – should not endanger your immigration status. However, there are grave risks involved in putting yourself in a situation where you could be arrested. Refusing to leave private property (a sit-in, in 1960s speak); any form of violence, even minor, against another person; looting or destruction of property; and obstructing a law enforcement officer are all examples of charges that, if convicted, could lead to deportation.
So while U.S. citizens might regard the consequences of a criminal conviction resulting from a confrontational demonstration as minor, for the nonimmigrant or green card holder the consequences could be far worse.
If you’re a visa holder, you don’t need to be silent. We should all speak, as we must. But be aware that there is a line between speech and assembly, which are protected, and other forms of behavior that – while associated with speech – are not protected. Speak out, it’s important. Just don’t put your ability to remain in the U.S. at risk.